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Proceedings of The National Conference

On Undergraduate Research (NCUR) 2016

University of North Carolina Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina
April 7-9, 2016

A Fascination with the Unknown: The Work of Albert Eckhout in Dutch

Colonial Brazil
Hannah Wiepke
Art History
The University of North Carolina Asheville
One University Heights
Asheville, North Carolina 22804 USA

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Cynthia Canejo. Dr. Eva Bares, Dr. Katherine Zubko


Within the last forty years, a significant amount of research has been completed about the artistic works of Albert
Eckhout (c. 1610-1665) and his connection to Dutch colonialism in Brazil. This paper will explore the paintings
created by Eckhout during his seven-year stay in Brazil. To European eyes, the landscape of Northeast Brazil would
be described as beyond comparison. With its natural waterfalls, forests, and winding rivers, Brazil was like an exotic
paradise to its colonial settlers. The native peoples that inhabited the Brazilian coast had utterly different languages,
cultural values, clothing styles, and familial systems, and governing structures than the Dutch. The native population
was completely unfamiliar and foreign. Fortunately, Eckhout was hired to create images of costumes and customs he
observed, and thus today, we have access to some of the first formally painted images of the Viceroyalty of Brazil and
its inhabitants. The work of Eckhout contributes to the larger understanding of Dutch colonialism and the value of
intercontinental travel and representation of the exotic in Baroque-era Europe. Using early modern taxonomic
frameworks and practices along with visual analysis and interpretation this investigation demonstrates Albert
Eckhout’s profound impact on the understanding of race and ethnicity in the early modern world as well as
representation of the New World through visual culture.

Keywords: Albert Eckhout, Dutch, Colonial Brazil, Colonialism

1. Introduction
The artistic works of Baroque era artist Albert Eckhout (c. 1610-1665) have largely been studied by scholars as
supplemental documents to the study of Colonial Dutch Brazil. This thesis will explore the paintings created by
Eckhout during his seven-year stay in Brazil. To the eyes of his European contemporaries, the landscape of Northeast
Brazil was beyond comparison. With its natural waterfalls, forests, and winding rivers, Brazil was an exotic paradise
to its colonial settlers. Contributing to this exotic setting, the indigenous peoples that inhabited the Brazilian coast had
utterly different languages, cultural values, clothing styles, familial systems, and governing structures than the Dutch.
The native population was completely unfamiliar and foreign. As a result of motivated leadership, Eckhout created
images of costumes and customs he observed, and thus today, we have access to a few of the first formally painted
images of the Viceroyalty of Brazil and its inhabitants. During his stay in the port of Recife, Eckhout (a portrait artist),
created images of the New World. This thesis highlights how his work contributes to the larger understanding of Dutch
colonialism and the value of intercontinental travel as well as the representation of the exotic in early modern Europe.
In 1637, Eckhout was hired by Holy Roman Empire (modern day Germany), Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-
Siegen to travel with him to the colonial Dutch Brazilian port of Recife and paint their surroundings and the people
they encountered.1 Prior to the colonial expedition, Count Maurits was hired by the West India Company to be the
governor of the recently seized Portuguese territory. 2 Besides Eckhout, Dutch artist Frans Post was also hired to join
Governor Maurits on the trip and create images of the Brazilian landscape. Dutch physician William Piso and natural
historian Georg Marcgraf were also brought to Brazil under the employment of Governor Maurits and were instructed
to take copious notes and sketches of the wildlife and vegetation they observed. 3 In a letter written in 1678 to King
Louis XIV of France in regards to his patronage of artists and the work they produced while in Brazil, Maurits wrote
that the artists “created a portrait of that country’s peoples, animals, birds, fish, and fruits." 4 As the first Dutch colonial
governor of Brazil, Maurits advised Post and Eckhout to portray the wonders of the new colony and its riches and
resources. While the works of both Post and Eckhout are regarded today by scholars as some of the best early European
rendered visual images of Brazilian indigenous, African, Mestizo and Mulatto peoples, as well as the country’s
landscape, the two artists were originally hired to create images that would hang in the governor’s palace. Eventually,
this purpose changed and much of their work was ultimately used as visual scientific evidence of the New World. 4
As a political figure and a cultural trendsetter in European society, Maurits wanted his trip to Brazil to be regarded
as a profound event in European history. Due to his ambitious attitude and success, he is often referenced by scholars
as one of the most well qualified individuals to be sent to control and manage a European colony. 5 Governor Maurits
was considered a prince and favorite son of Count Johan VII of Nassau-Siegen, and it was surprising that the risk was
taken to send him to the New World as the first colonial governor of Dutch Brazil. The journey to the Americas was
often a dangerous one, which did not end when the expedition had arrived on land, but continued with the threat of
disease and conflict when encountering the native populations. Despite potential peril, Maurits planned from the very
beginning that his time in Brazil would be one that contributed to great scientific and cultural studies and that he would
be named its benefactor. Maurits understood that European nobility valued knowledge, which supported his desire to
compile his and his crew’s discoveries into a book.6
With this goal in mind, Georg Marcgraf and William Piso, the naturalist and physician on the trip, published in 1648
the Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (Brazilian Natural History), a book that detailed the plant life and topography that
they had observed while in Brazil. Sketches and drawings by both Post and Eckhout were used as prints in the book.
While Maurits expected all artists and scientists to be as objective and realistic as possible, he allowed Eckhout and
Post more artistic liberty when it came to oil paintings. Sketches and drawings could easily be turned into prints and
distributed to the masses, but easel paintings were less accessible to the general public and could only be viewed by
select individuals. The oil paintings produced by Post and Eckhout were made purely for the decoration of the
Governor’s mansion, while their less formal works were reserved for scientific and cultural studies. 7
In addition to economic interests, curiosity played a monumental role in colonization. The unfamiliar and strange
were exciting to Europeans and these early descriptions and images of the New World peaked their interest and
inspired further exploration. Regarded as the first European explorer to reach the New World and to come into contact
with the indigenous people of modern day South America, Amerigo Vespucci describes the indigenous people he
encountered in the Americas in his influential pamphlet Mundus Novus (New World), 1504:

The people are thus naked, handsome, brown, well shaped in body, their heads, necks, arms, private parts,
feet of women and men are a little covered with feathers. The men also have many precious stones in their
faces and breasts. No one also has anything, but all things are in common. And the men have as wives those
who please them, be they mothers, sisters, or friends, therein they make no distinction. They also fight with
each other. They also eat each other even those who are slain, and hang the flesh of them in the smoke. They
live one hundred and fifty years. And have no government. 8

This description by Vespucci was one of the first descriptions read by Europeans in regards to the New World. It
should be noted that Vespucci’s understanding and interpretation of the appearance and behavior of the indigenous
people of South America impacted the expectations for all future explorers.
Governor Maurits not only wanted to explore and study the new Dutch port, but also wanted the colony to emulate
the great capital cities of Europe. He called the capital of the port Mauritsstad (City of Maurits) and commissioned
elaborate building projects that included his main palace, Vrijburg, and his pleasure palace, Boa Vista. He sponsored
the building of bridges, public parks, and zoological parks. In addition, he funded the installment of botanical and
pleasure gardens that contained both indigenous wildlife and plants as well those from other parts of South America.
When he returned to Europe in 1644, Governor Maurits gifted the works of Post and Eckhout to Danish, German, and
French kings as objects that reflected an exotic new world. Many of these images along with native Brazilian plant
and animal specimens were ultimately housed in curiosity cabinets, also known as Kunstkammers.9
The European elite in the seventeenth century highly valued the exotic and with the rise of colonialism, influx of
goods from the New World satisfied this interest. Among the objects that were brought back by early settlers and
given as gifts to the European nobility were specimens of rocks, minerals, plants, rare and precious stones as well as
shells, taxidermy animals, and mementos of the indigenous peoples. The owners of these objects would then display

their wares in a cabinet or room, which was later known as a Wunderkammer or Kunstkammer. Scholars typically
regard the Kunstkammer as the prototype of the museum, as it housed objects that were intended to inform as well as
fascinate the viewer.10 Some Kunstkammers held images of the New World, and in fact, many of Post and Eckhout’s
paintings ended up in the Kunstkammers of various noble and royal families across Europe. Maurits had commissioned
the two artists to portray the “exotic, the different, the new, the surprising, that would excite the curiosity,” 11 and as a
result their work was favored for its aesthetically pleasing presentation and inclusion of the bizarre and colorful plant
life, animals, and indigenous peoples of Brazil.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, before and during the discovery and exploration of the New World, the
distinctions made by twenty-first century scholars, between race and ethnicity today had yet to be considered. During
the early modern period indigenous groups of people were regarded as inferior on the basis of their behavior especially
when compared to that of the “civilized” Europeans, rather than their skin color or physical appearance. Religion,
morality, type of government, material culture, manner of making war, and the cultivation and preparation of food
determined a nation’s civility. Europeans compared their behavioral practices and belief systems, especially that of
Christianity, to those of the indigenous people in the New World. In the eighteenth century, employing religion as the
primary divider between European and indigenous culture, European slave traders justified taking slaves from Africa
by claiming that Africans were less human because of their non-Christian values. Slave traders speculated that
indigenous peoples were less intellectual as a way to rationalize their actions. By the early 1800s ethnicity did come
into play. Writers began to describe non-Europeans by their physical appearance especially physiognomy, as a further
way to designate specific differences they considered crucial between the civilized and uncivilized, or indigenous,
African, and European.12 Artists attempted to define cultural and racial groups in their work.
Created in 1571, the engraved frontispiece designed for Flemish cartographer, Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis
Terrarum (Theatre of the World) (Fig. 1)13 is the first known image “to represent the personifications of the four parts
of the world as a unified group.” 14 This image was created during the late Renaissance period, an era that was
characterized by advances in art, science, and global exploration. The wealthy nations of Europe were all clambering
to gain a foothold in the New World and discover the riches and exotic flora, fauna, and peoples it had to offer.
Ortelius’ book is considered the first modern atlas and its frontispiece not only represents the four known continents
of the world at the time, but also suggests a hierarchy of civility. 15 At the top of the work is the female personification
of Europe. She is enthroned and crowned and sits above the other continents as ruler of the world. In her right hand is
a staff and to her left is a Latin cross representing the sovereignty of Christianity. She sits between two globes, one
representing the celestial world and the other the physical world, implying that the European continent rules the
physical world and even perhaps the heavens. Immediately to her right is the personification of Asia, which is
considered the second most cultured to Europe. Asia wears elaborate jewels and clothing and holds an incense burner,
emphasizing the importance of the spice trade that originated in Asia. Directly across from Asia is the personification
of Africa, wearing less clothing than the other two figures described and holds a tree branch as an object of trade. In
contrast to the European and Asian figures, Africa is topless and dons elaborate jewels and fabric unlike her
counterparts. Her hair in flames represents the hot weather associated with the continent. Finally, at the bottom of the
image is the personification of America who sits completely naked holding a sphere and a severed head, implying her
barbarism and cannibalistic behaviors. At her feet is a bow and arrow set. A bust to her left represents terra incognita,
the undiscovered continents of the world. As a whole, this frontispiece outlines the understood level of civility of each
continent, with refined and sophisticated Europe at the top and savage and hedonistic America at the bottom. 16
Eckhout’s work directly reflects the first stages of defining race and ethnicity based on behavioral practice to one
focused on physical appearance.17 His work is categorized by scholar, Peter Mason as representative of the artistic
tradition of ethnographic portraiture. For Mason, ethnographic portraiture can be defined as a portrait of an individual
which features objects that are “themselves ethnographically identifiable” which ultimately “introduces ethnographic
distinctiveness to the composition as a whole.”18 Furthermore, he contends that the distinct cultural artifacts that are
on display in an ethnographic portrait lend itself to specifics thus in the case of Eckhout’s portraits, utilizing a
“relatively unspecific form which becomes increasingly specific through the addition of further detail.” 19 In another
sense, ethnographic portraiture can be described as a way to represent an entire nation or group of people through one
individual surrounded by very specific and carefully selected ethnographic objects.
Eckhout’s portraits Tapuya Man (1641), Tapuya Woman (1641), Tupinamba Man (1643), Tupinamba Woman
(1641), African Woman and Child (1641), African Man (1641), Mameluca (1641), and Mulatto Man (1643) tend to
be interpreted by scholars as “authentic ethnographic records rather than works of art.” 20 Through their inclusion of
specific cultural artifacts, clothing, and landscapes, these eight large-scale portraits by Eckhout are readily accessible
via the visual rhetoric of ethnographic portraiture. However, it is important to consider the implications of this definite
categorization. By valuing the portraits as purely ethnographic their artistic value is diminished and as a result their
interpretation disregards artistic liberties. Mason briefly notes the tradition of disguised symbolism in early modern

Dutch art.21 He cites that disguised symbolism manifested itself in a variety of artistic mediums in the early modern
period, from genre scenes, landscapes, to portraiture. In essence, a scene had the potential to be embedded with a
variety of symbols, many of which tended to be moralizing. 22 For example, a dog featured in a domestic scene where
both a husband and wife are present could easily represent fidelity and loyalty between the spouses. Considering that
Eckhout was a trained artist and also a consumer of images in the early modern world, it would not be surprising if he
employed disguised symbolism in his Brazilian portraits, which this author holds to be a form of artistic liberty. In
turn, it is also important to acknowledge Eckhout’s other uses of visual rhetoric from the 17 th century.
All eight of Eckhout’s portraits are rendered in larger than life scale utilizing oil paint on canvas. At first glance, a
few commonalities between the portraits are revealed. Four of the portraits feature men as their central figure, while
the other four detail women. The majority of scholars have included that the portraits are in fact pairs of male and
female counterparts that represent a specific ethnic group that inhabited the colony. Engaging with the conclusion that
Eckhout’s portraits were designed to be in pairs further aids in the exploration of their commonalities. All eight figures
stand in an upright position with one foot forward and look directly out at the viewer. Their pose is reminiscent of
contrapposto, an artistic technique that was used as early as the Greeks in the fifth century BCE to help portray
movement and engaged muscles in depictions of individuals by employing a subtle weight shift. Building from this
revered artistic tradition, European painters of the 17 th century displayed their portrait subjects in classical
conventions. By rendering the portraits in a standardized and familiar form, Eckhout’s contemporary viewers would
have promptly been able to interpret and understand the images of the alien New World presented to them. As Mason
has suggested, it is not the physical stance or positioning of the figures that made Eckhout’s work categorized as
exotic, but the specific ethnographic objects that were included in each portrait. The backgrounds in each portrait also
lend themselves to traditional European landscape painting of the 17 th century. There is a clear foreground, middle
ground, and background, which are simply there to provide a contextual understanding of space for the central figure.
Eckhout’s use of European conventions was key to its interpretation in the early modern world. While Mason has
claimed Eckhout’s work has “always attracted interest and admiration for their ethnographic accuracy rather than any
intrinsic worth,” it is imperative that his work also be considered for its artistic value.23 An analysis of his work should
include interpretation via the lens of ethnography and through the investigation of disguised symbolism as a
mechanism of artistic liberty.

2. The Work of Eckhout

The portrait entitled Tapuya Man (Fig. 2)24 is life-size oil on canvas painting, which details a nearly naked man with
brown skin. Wearing a vibrantly colored feathered headdress composed of red, yellow, and blue feathers. Embedded
in his cheeks are thin white wooden dowels, in his right ear he wears a plug, and below his lower lip he wears a green
stone installed in a small hole.25 The Tapuya man grasps a spear thrower or atlatl in one hand, carries four spears
against his shoulder, and in his other hand holds a club of black wood. 26 Around his torso is a string that secures a
bustle of feathers on his back. Other than the bustle, the vegetal matter that secures his diminutive genitals and the
minimalistic sandals he wears on his feet, the man is completely naked. In the background of the portrait are lush flora
and fauna as well as local wildlife. Next to the man’s left foot is a tarantula and to his right a dead boa constrictor. 27
If analyzed utilizing the perspective of ethnographic portraiture and disguised symbolism, Tapuya Man conveys an
illustration of a man who is a warrior holding multiple weapons. He is almost completely naked, which is made even
more pronounced by the little he wears. His petite and flaccid penis suggests emasculation and a lack of virility,
implying that in comparison to his European conquerors he is far inferior in his masculinity. The local flora and fauna
as well as the wide expanse in the background promote an idea of utter wilderness. There is small grouping of equally
brown and nude natives off in the distance to the left of the main figure, who appear to be participating in some sort
of dance or ritual, perhaps suggesting a barbarous tone in the work. Violence and savageness is implied by the dead
boa constrictor that lays defeated at the feet of the warrior. The portrait Tapuya Man represents the opposite of the
European definition of a civilized individual.
In comparison, the related portrait, Tapuya Woman (Fig. 3)28, is also depicted in contrapposto. Her skin is brown
and she stands naked expect for a small bunch of leaves tied by a string covering her genitals and buttocks. On her
back she carries a straw basket, which contains a severed foot. She holds a disconnected hand in her right hand,
presumably from the same individual whose foot she carries on her back. The detached hand she holds is gruesome
with its long gray fingernails and protruding bone. In her left hand she clutches a bundle of twigs close to her breast.
The woman stands wearing sandals with one foot in the water and the other on the shore. Her body is sporadically
covered in green patches. She wears a passive and indifferent expression as she looks out at the viewer. A large tree

looms over her and passion fruits grow from its branches. Between her feet, a wild dog licks water from the bubbling
stream. An untamed rolling landscape dotted with nude indigenous men holding spears acts as her background. 29
When interpreted employing the concept of ethnography and disguised symbolism, the portrait of Tapuya Woman
can be explained similarly to its partner portrait of the Tapuya Man. Here one could construe that the woman is a
cannibal as she holds a severed foot and hand without any obvious signs of purpose or remorse. The untamed landscape
behind her is free of settlements or signs of commerce and adds to her portrayal as uncivilized. Analogous to the
portrait of the Tapuya Man, her nakedness is accentuated by her lack of apparel. The wild dog lapping water at her
feet further underscores the savagery, and by coexisting in the same rugged landscape as a wild dog, the woman’s
animalistic tendencies are also highlighted.30 The green patches that smatter across her skin seem to emphasize her
connection to the native and feral vegetation that surrounds her; she too is part of nature, so much that she blends in.
Another set of works painted by Eckhout for the palace of Governor Maurits are two portraits entitled Tupinamba
Man and Tupinamba Woman. When compared to those of Tapuya, these portraits convey a picture of civilized society
and refinement. The portrait entitled Tupinamba Man (Fig. 4) 31 presents a man who, like the Tapuya, stands in
contrapposto. He has brown skin similar to the skin tone of the images of the Tapuya, however, he wears short white
European pants made of cloth. Tucked into his waistband is a knife with a wooden handle. He holds a bow and arrows
and faces the viewer directly.32 In the background is a long and lazy river in which people are bathing themselves and
washing their clothing, and across the river are outlines of houses. During the time, Europeans regarded bathing and
laundering to be a civilized practice that promoted self-respect and cleanliness. By including an image of natives
bathing in the background, Eckhout suggests that the Tupinamba people were far more cultured than their Tapuya
counterparts. Similar to the depictions of the Tapuya, vegetation is present, but presented in a controlled and
maintained manner. A manioc, a root vegetable native to the New World, lays on the ground cut in half, and to the
man’s right is a land crab. 33 The restricted vegetation and chopped vegetable suggest discipline and a taming of
The complementary portrait of the Tupinamba Woman (Fig. 5)34 likewise advocates that the Tupinamba people were
far superior to the Tapuya people in terms of their acculturation of European customs and values. The portrait features
a woman wearing a skirt made of white European cloth tied at the hip. She holds a basket atop her head that contains
vegetation and native gourd and her hip she holds an infant. The woman faces the viewer directly and to her right is a
banana tree bearing fruit. On the ground is a toad native to Brazil.35 She does not wear any jewelry or body paint and
her only ornamentation is the red and white ribbons that wind around her two braids. The background of the portrait
features a plantation with organized straight rows of crops with a house in the distance, implying colonization and
standardized food production, an element of a productive and sophisticated society. 36 At the far end of the row of
crops, the plantation house looms over the fields, and on the balcony stands the European owners of the plantation
surveying the field workers. All these elements combined suggest a passive, civilized indigenous woman who is in
the process of being assimilated into European society.
After extensive research, art historian Rebecca Parker Brienen has come to the conclusion that, when read
ethnographically, the portraits created by Eckhout explain the Dutch understanding of and opinions on indigenous
peoples they encountered. She argues that the correct names for the indigenous peoples depicted in Eckhout’s portraits
are “Tapuya” and “Brasilianen.” While the Tapuyas were a specific indigenous group of coastal Brazil, “Tupinamba”
was a term used by the Dutch to describe multiple indigenous tribes that accepted their control and influence. Brienen
suggests that Brasilianen is a better-suited term for the indigenous groups that did not succumb to Dutch rule as it
encompasses all groups of Brazilian indigenous peoples rather than just one. 37 This difference between the submission
of the Brasilianen and rejection by the Tapuya of Dutch colonial rule are prominently displayed in Eckhout’s portraits
of the Tapuya and Tupinamba. While the portraits of the Brasilianen describe an advanced and civilized society in
which people wear clothing and cultivate food in an organized manner, the portraits of the Tapuya demonstrate a
society that is savage and uncultured that was cannibalistic and frequently naked. 38
Eckhout not only created images of the indigenous population of Brazil, but also of the Africans that inhabited the
coast. During the seventeenth century as race began to become defined by physiognomy and ethnicity, European
colonizers were increasingly interested in taxonomic divisions between different ethnic groups and how these
taxonomies were affected when two parents of different ethnicities produced a child. The main non-European ethnic
groups that were recognized in Dutch Brazil were the Brasilian, Tapuya, African, Mulatto, and Mameluco. As a result,
these groups are detailed in Eckhout’s portraits as they represented the Dutch colonial government’s formal stance on
racial division in the colony.39 Collectively, if Eckhout’s four pairs of portraits were to be analyzed using the same
frameworks and tools of visual analysis, the images of the African man and woman, Mulatto man, and Mameluca
woman, would prove to be the most multi-faceted and convoluted to interpret. The images of the Brasilianen and
Tapuya men and women are evidently paired portraits, with counterparts that are equal to one another. While the
Brasilianen and Tapuya portraits are complimentary by their similar dress, level of civility, background, and inclusion

of vegetation, the portraits of the Africans and the Mulatto and Mameluca are complimentary because they not only
represent the physical and material holdings of the colony but the relationship between Dutch settlers and the Africans
and indigenous groups of Brazil.
Eckhout’s African Man (Fig. 6)40 portrait is similar to the other images in the series and features a single figure that
stands in contrapposto and looks directly at the viewer. The figure stands tall, a hand on one hip, holding a spear in
the other. The man’s chest, leg, and arm muscles are clearly defined, and he is clothed in a blue and white-checkered
fabric that winds around his waist and covers his pronounced genitals, acting as loincloth. His chest and feet are bare.
Several more arrows are tucked into his loincloth and lay across his back, while tucked into the front is a large curved
sword with an elaborately decorated hilt. The sword is adorned with a red shell at the base of the hilt and two jeweled
orbs along the hilt. At the end of the hilt is a jeweled orb that fans out with a tuft red fiber. His hair is rendered in a
similar fashion to that of his Dutch contemporaries, as it falls in soft curls to the sides of his face. He stands on a sandy
shoreline that is scattered with shells and framed by a date palm tree. The background of the image is accentuated by
the large expanse of a blue sky dotted with clouds that meets the vast ocean in the bottom third of the painting. Growing
in front of the date palm is beach grass and vines with pink flowers that extend across the cramped shoreline that the
man stands on. In addition, directly in front of the tree are the remnants of an elephant tusk, which coincidently
incorporates the signature of the artist. 41
Correspondingly, Eckhout’s portrait of an African Woman and Child (Fig. 7)42 stages two figures. The work contains
both a female adult figure and boy, presumably her son. Both figures look out at the viewer and stand in contrapposto,
with opposite feet stepping forward to assist in balancing the image. The woman looks out as the viewer as she
protectively places a hand atop her son’s head and holds a decorative woven basket of fruit and flowers in the other.
Atop her head is an elaborate hourglass shaped hat with a wide brim of peacock feathers. Similar to the woven basket
in her hand, her hat is comprised of woven strands of vegetal matter that are colored yellow, black, and red. Her full
breasts are exposed while her body’s lower half is covered by a skirt made of blue and white-checkered cloth that is
knotted at her waist and held by a belt fashioned from red fabric with fringes at the ends. A Dutch clay pipe is tucked
into her waistband and sits directly below her breasts. In contrast to her bare feet, her arms and neck are adorned with
jewels. She wears two contrasting necklaces, one composed of a strand small red beads and the other comprising of
two strands of modest pearls with a larger drop-shaped pearl at the center. She also wears a wide gold toned bracelet
on one wrist and on the other a bracelet made of several strands of similarly gold spherical beads. To complete her
jewelry adornment, the woman dons earrings formed of drop pearls tied by red bows.
Her son, on the other hand, is nude except for small hooped earrings and a necklace of multiple strands of black
circular beads. The boy’s hands are occupied like his mother’s, as a colorful lovebird perches on one hand and in the
other he clutches a half-shucked ear of corn. Analogously to the African Man portrait, a large tree dominates one side
of the portrait, in this image, a wax palm. Comparable to the African Man portrait, the African Woman and Child
image is set on a sandy shoreline. While both images feature a large skyline that meets the ocean, there are few details
that are included in the African Woman and Child image that differ from its male companion portrait. Instead of an
empty ocean in the background, the African female figure stands in front of an extended shoreline that leads to a beach
that is freckled with Brasilianens fishing. The Brasilianens are wearing the same white cloth that was featured in the
portraits of both the Tupinamba Man and Tupinamba Woman portraits. Just beyond the Brasilian fishing, the horizon
line holds several European ships.43
According to scholar Rebecca Parker Brienen, the African man is standing on an African coastline because the date
palm in the image is native to Africa, while the wax palm included in the African Woman and Child portrait originates
from Brazil.44 She further suggests that the elephant tusk that lies near his feet is a potential allusion to Africa, home
continent of elephants, whereas the African Woman and Child portrait is set on the Brazilian coastline. Keeping with
Brienen’s assertions, the African Man image is designed to represent the alliance between African nobles and traders
and the Dutch--as the decorative sword the African man carries is Akan from the Gold Coast of Guinea.
Brienen refers to a text written by Dutch explorer, Pieter de Marees’s who recorded his travels in his 1602 text
entitled Description of the gold coast of Guinea. In his travel logs, de Marees discusses African customs, religions,
and social classes, and also includes illustrations. He specifically writes about and illustrates the interaction of the
African traders and the Dutch and specifically notes the use of “a large sword with a ‘fish’ skin scabbard decorated
by a large red shell.”45 If the African Man portrait was designed to represent the alliance between the Dutch and Africa
in regards to trade, Brienen suggests that the African Woman and Child image can be understood to represent European
sentimentality of fecundity and sexuality present in Africans.
Utilizing both the lens of ethnography and disguised symbolism, the African Woman and Child hosts a variety of
interpretations. She is clearly not enslaved as she wears no shackles or other forms of restraint. Instead she stands tall,
regal even, wearing an elaborate hat and jewelry. Following Brienen’s suggestion, Mason claims the figure’s “erotic
power is explicitly accentuated” and that “her frontal gaze offers to her to the eye of the beholder.” 46 Her “erotic

power” is suggested by her full breasts, which are highlighted by her jewelry and the clay pipe tucked in her skirt that
rests just under her left breast. Additionally, her short skirt implies “an erotic invitation” which confirms the child
standing before her as a result of her fecundity and promiscuity. 47 Even her young son contributes to the suggestiveness
of her character as he holds a vibrant red-faced lovebird denoting the feelings of lust and exoticism that Europeans
regarded Africans with. Furthermore, the boy holds a shucked ear of corn pointing up his mother’s skirt, an obviously
blatant phallic image.
Brienen’s theory and analysis of the African Man and African Woman and Child portraits has yet to be challenged
by other art historians, while much of her interpretation is supported by images created by other colonial era artists.
She cites a variety of primary sources ranging from journals, etchings, diagrams, and written accounts by
contemporaries of Eckhout. It should be noted that much of Brienen’s visual analysis is supported by an iconography
that developed around the depiction of Africans during the colonial era. 48 In her examination of the eight portraits as
a complete set, Brienen often describes the works in conjunction with each other in terms of the cultural and racial
group they are representing, however she does not compare and contrast them within their individual pairs. When
comparing the portraits of the African Man and African Woman and Child, there is still much to be extrapolated.
If, in fact, the portraits were designed to be hung side by side with their gendered counterpart, as hypothesized by
Brienen, the shoreline depicted in the two works is highly intriguing.49 If the two images were lined up right next to
each other, the shoreline would be consistent between both works, creating a continuation of the shoreline. The two
trees depicted in the works, while different species, are rendered on opposite sides, thus framing the two works and
aiding a potentially continued shoreline. It is important to note that the same rounded green leaves and pink bell-
shaped flowers appear in both portraits, as well as a similar grey and cloudy sky that meets a dark blue ocean. These
similarities suggest that perhaps the two figures are not located on two different continents, but maybe perhaps one
shoreline. The continuity of the shoreline, similar lighting of the scene, and comparable vegetation present, encourage
the theory that the two portraits were designed to be interpreted as a pair.
In keeping with the iconography of Africans developed in the seventeenth century, it could be ascertained that the
two works are employing already determined representations of Africans and could be the result of a hybridity of
visual information. This hybridity could in turn render two scenes that feature an array of vegetation, clothing, and
material objects, which do not ground the scene in a particular location, but rather a space that is ambiguous. The
image of the African Man and the African Woman and Child are already an anomaly when compared to the portraits
of the Tupinamba and the Tapuya. While the portraits of the Tupinamba and the Tapuya are very similar in their
backgrounds, clothing styles, and evidence of savagery, the portraits of the African are uncertain. It is not clear that if
the African figures are slaves, as they are not depicted in a submissive stance, but instead look directly out at the
viewer. Perhaps their role in the colony was multi-faceted; while the majority was enslaved, there were ambassadors
and traders that interacted with the court. In turn their hybrid roles in the colony could very well be depicted in the
portraits through their ambiguous setting.
Mason’s definition of ethnography is extremely applicable when analyzing Eckhout’s African portraits. The use of
ethnographic artifacts clearly grounds the image with specific information for the viewer to deduce. The artifacts are
so specific that they have been cited in different texts of the period thus firmly rooting their ethnographic cause. 50 By
including specific cultural artifacts such as an Akan sword decorated with a red shell, Eckhout firmly implies that the
African Man portrait features a trader with access to variety of luxurious goods. Ethnographic artifacts surrounding
the African Woman and Child portrait include both European, African, and American made objects. While the clay
pipe tucked into her waistband is distinctly Dutch, the basket she holds details a pattern unique to Africa, which
simultaneously carries fruits native to Brazil. Through the inclusion of these ethnographic elements her connection to
the Dutch, Africa, and Brazil are all present. She is representative of the three different spaces, all of which Africans
were a part of during this period. Africans were enslaved by the Dutch, working alongside the Brasilianen in the
plantation fields, and also acting as ambassadors of Africa and interacting in the trade market. Her hybrid role
encompasses the economic relationship between the Dutch Brazilian colony and Africa. 51 This hybridization is also
representative in Eckhout’s portraits of Mulatto Man (Fig. 8)52 and Mameluca (Fig. 9).53
Referred to as a “dusky Brazilian Flora” by scholars Whitehead and Boesman, the Mameluca portrait features a
female figure that is of both European and Brasilianen descent.54 The ethnographic artifacts included in her portrait
emphasize her racial hybridization. Mameluca is a unique term to Brazil and was implemented by the Portuguese in
the seventeenth century to refer specifically to the offspring of European and indigenous coupling. 55 While Eckhout’s
images of racial hybrids are precursors to the established casta paintings of late seventeenth century Colonial Mexico,
their interest on racial classification is still evident. During the seventeenth century, women of mixed race living in
European colonies in Africa and South America were regarded as highly sexually desirable because of their unique
racial makeup. These mixed race females were not considered fully European and therefore were included in the exotic
sexual appeal of Africans and indigenous women. 56

The Mameluca detailed in Eckhout’s portrait stands confidently and looks out directly at a viewer with a small smile.
She wears a billowing white gown, which she lifts provocatively to reveal her ankle. The plunging neckline of her
gown also suggests her promiscuity. A basket of wildflowers spill out of woven basket, which she holds casually as
if to offer them to the viewer. The vegetation present in the portrait include a fully bloomed birds of paradise framed
by a cashew tree dripping with fresh cashews. A cluster of guinea pigs sit near her feet and in the background the
background the gentle rolling hills of northeast Brazil are manicured and divided plantation fields. She is also
decorated with gold beaded bracelets, a matching necklace and earring set made of gems, and a small green hat
decorated with pearls and a sprig of orange tree blossoms. 57 Her jewelry and clothing are European while her
background is recognizably Brazilian. The overflowing basket of flowers, fully bloomed birds of paradise and cashew
tree all point towards fertility and growth, which in turn further suggests her eroticism. Whitehead and Boseman’s
label of a “dusky Brazilian Flora” is fitting as Flora was the Roman goddess of spring and often associated with
fertility. Eckhout’s inclusion of guinea pigs is also telling of the Mameluca’s sensual representation considering in the
journals of Marcgraf and Governor Maurits the description and illustrations of guinea pigs are labeled as rabbits. 58
Furthermore, rabbits are often connoted with springtime and reproduction as they quickly reproduce, thus the inclusion
of guinea pigs in the portraits even further highlight the sexual appeal of the Mameluca in European eyes.
While Eckhout’s Mameluca portrait accentuates the desirability of a woman of mixed European and indigenous
descent, the portrait Mulatto Man focuses on the economic connection between the Dutch and the African slaves that
inhabited the colony. Unlike Mameluca, Mulatto was not a distinct term used solely in Brazil. Mulatto was also used
in Spanish and Portuguese colonies to refer to individuals that were offspring of an enslaved African mother and
European father. 59 A Mulatto was considered to also be enslaved unless their European father purchased their
In Eckhout’s depiction of a Mulatto, he chooses to use a male figure to be the counterpart to the other racial
hybridization existing in the colony, the Mameluca. The Mulatto man wears a long sleeve shirt and skirt made of a
similar white fabric that both the Brasilianen figures wear in their respective portraits.61 Over his shirt, the man wears
a brown and black doublet and slung across his shoulder is jaguar skin holder for his rapier. He also holds a Portuguese
made gun and his rapier is identified as sixteenth century Dutch. 62 Both Mulattos and Africans slaves were allowed to
be soldiers in the Dutch West India Company army and would have been issued weaponry. Furthermore, the facial
hair of the man depicted in the image is reminiscent of the facial hair wore by Dutch soldiers of the period. If the
Mulatto Man portrait is representative of the military involvement of Africans and Mulattos in the colony, the
background of the image also suggests another aspect of their impact and interaction with the colony. Behind the man
is a crop of sugar cane, which was a main export of the colony, and what the enslaved Africans spent their time
harvesting. Following the economic theme, there are also European ships dotting the horizon line of the image. The
European ships could very well be carrying more Africans slaves to the colony, the other major export besides sugar
cane. The Mulatto Man portrait represents the economic impact that slaves had on the colony and illustrated the result
of European and African coupling, while the Mameluca portrait described the desirability and promiscuity of mixed
race women in the colony.

3. Conclusion
Eckhout’s portraits of the inhabitants of Dutch Brazil detail an unparalleled view of the populace of the New World.
While maintaining European portraiture conventions, Eckhout seamlessly incorporated ethnographic artifacts and
disguised symbolism to create an image of the exotic, strange, and “other” that was still familiar. A European viewer
of his work during the mid-seventeenth century would have been able to recognize the standards of portraiture utilized
and able to identify the elements that were distinctly exotic and representative of the New World. His work was
designed to be large scale, impressive, and telling of Governor Maurit’s successful rule. These eight portraits were
intended to reflect the newfound constituents of Governor Maurit’s colony and reflect his social and economic
holdings. Their size and use of expensive materials is also telling of his artistic patronage. They were decorative and
informational images that equaled the elegance and prestige of paintings displayed in the palaces of kings in Europe.
When Eckhout and Post returned to the Netherlands in 1644, the paintings they had created during their stay also
returned with them.
Maurits’ return to Europe in 1644 was met with great excitement. He brought back with him a variety of artifacts,
artistic works, and even indigenous Brasilianens. Maurit’s collection is unique because it did not remain in one
collective space, such as a Kunstkammer, but rather was spread across Europe as social and cultural capital. Soon after
his return to the Netherlands Maurits moved into his new palace in The Hague and began to host courtly functions
where he would show off the objects he had ascertained in Brazil. His collection encompassed artifacts his crew had

collected as well as objects gained as a result of trade with the indigenous and African ambassadors to the colony. The
collection reflected his success as a leader in Brazil and his ability to form alliances. Once back in Europe, his
collection entered the culture of the gift-giving elite.63
Beginning in 1652 Maurits began to give large portions of his Brazilian collection to members of the European
aristocracy in exchange for acknowledgement, power and prestige. He first gifted paintings, ivory furniture with
Brazilian motifs, and over seven hundred drawings and oil studies to Friederich Wilhelm I, the Elector of Brandenburg.
Concerning the fate of Eckhout’s ethnographic portraits, King Frederick III of Denmark received all eight
ethnographic portraits in addition to twenty-two other paintings in 1654. Perhaps not coincidently, the Dutch also lost
their holdings in Brazil in 1654 to the Portuguese. Finally, in 1678 Maurits gave twenty-seven Post paintings, twenty
of which had been created in Brazil, to King Louis XIV of France. Maurit’s gifts to these great leaders find themselves
as part of the great cultural capital exchange that began in Europe during the colonial period. His gifts to these leaders
ensured his social standing and also aided in disseminating information about Dutch Brazil to other European
countries. Shortly before his death in 1679, Maurits composed a letter to a Danish ambassador in regards to the
paintings by Eckhout that he had given to King Frederick III of Denmark. In his letter Maurits requested that the
paintings be returned to him. Even on his deathbed, Maurits wanted to be reminded of his cultural and social profits
from Brazil.64 The work of Albert Eckhout and its function as cultural capital is paramount in understanding the value
of intercontinental travel and trade during the early modern period.

4. References
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Brazil: 1644-2002. Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet, 2002.
2. Brienen, Rebecca Parker. Albert Eckhout: Visões Do Paraíso Selvagem: Obra Completa. Rio De Janeiro,
RJ: Capivara, 2010.
3. Brienen, Rebecca Parker. “Albert Eckhout and Frans Post: Two Dutch Artists in Colonial Brazil.” In
Edward J. Sullivan, ed., Brazil: Body and Soul. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2001, pp. 92-111
4. Brienen, Rebecca Parker. "Albert Eckhout's African Woman and Child (1641)." In Slave Portraiture in the
Atlantic World, by Agnes I. Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal, 229-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
5. Brienen, Rebecca Parker. Visions of Savage Paradise Albert Eckhout, Court Painter in Colonial Dutch
Brazil. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.
6. Brienen, Rebecca Parker. "Who Owns Frans Post? Collecting Frans Post's Brazilian Landscapes." In The
Legacy of Dutch Brazil, edited by Michiel Van Groesen, 229-47. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
7. Buvelot, Quentin, Dante M. Teixeira, Elly De Vries, Florike Egmond, and Peter Mason. Albert Eckhout: A
Dutch Artist in Brazil. The Hague: Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, 2004.
8. Barlaeus, Caspar. Nederlandsch Brazilie ondert het bewind van Johan Maurits Grave van Nassau 1637-
1644, edited and translated by S.P. L’Honore. Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1923.
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Oxford University Press, 2010. Accessed April 19, 2016.
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The Legacy of Dutch Brazil, edited by Michiel Van Groesen, 105-23. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
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12. Grinke, Paul. From Wunderkammer to Museum. London: Quaritch, 2006.
13. Groesen, Michiel Van. The Legacy of Dutch Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
14. Lago, Pedro Corrêa Do, Frans Jansz Post, and Bia Corrêa Do. Lago. Frans Post, 1612-1680: Catalogue
Raisonné. Milan: 5 Continents, 2007.
15. Mason, Peter. Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
16. North, Michael. Art and Commerce in the Dutch Golden Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
17. Phaf-Rheinberger, Ineke. "Science and Art in the “Dutch Period” in Northeast Brazil: The Representation
of Cannibals and Africans as Allies Overseas." Circumscribere- International Journal for the History of Science 7
(2009): 37-47.

18. Prins, Harold E.L., Dr. "The Atlatl as Combat Weapon in 17th-Century Amazonia: Tapuya Indian Warriors
in Dutch Colonial Brazil." Newsletter of the World Atlatl Association, Inc 23 (May 24, 2010): 1-10. Accessed March
24, 2016.
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Connections, 1680-1800, 2014, 249-72.
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of Johan Maurits (1604-79) in North-East Brazil." Garden History 30, no. 2 (Winter 2002): 153-76.
23. Sutton, Elizabeth. "Mapping Dutch Nationalism across the Atlantic." Artl@s Bulletin 2, no. 1 (2013):
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24. Tribe, Tania Costa. 1996. “The Mulatto as Artist and Image in Colonial Brazil”. Oxford Art Journal 19 (1).
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25. Wagener, Zacharias. Zacharias Wagener. Zoobiblion, livro de animais do Brasil, edited by E de C. Falcao.
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27. Whitehead, Peter James Palmer., and M. Boeseman. A Portrait of Dutch 17th Century Brazil: Animals,
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5. Endnotes

1 Rebecca Parker Brienen, “Albert Eckhout and Frans Post: Two Dutch Artists in Colonial Brazil” in Brazil: Body
and Soul, ed. Edward J. Sullivan (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2001), 92-111.
2 Peter James Palmer Whitehead and M. Boeseman, A Portrait of Dutch 17th Century Brazil: Animals, Plants,
and People by the Artists of Johan Maurits of Nassau (Amsterdam: North-Holland Pub., 1989), 20.
3 Brienen, Visions of Savage Paradise: Albert Eckhout, Court Painter in Colonial Dutch Brazil (Amsterdam:
Amsterdam University Press, 2006), 12-13.
4 Brienen, “Albert Eckhout and Frans Post,” 92-111.
5 Whitehead, A Portrait, 19-20.
6 Ibid., 21-25.
7 Pedro Corrêa Do Lagoand Bia Corrêa Do Lago, Frans Post, 1612-1680: Catalogue Raisonné (Milan: 5
Continents, 2007), 18-32.
8 As quoted in translation by William Arens, The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 27.
9 Brienen, Visions, 34-35.
10 Paul Grinke, From Wunderkammer to Museum (London: Quaritch, 2006).
11 Do Lago, Frans Post, 28.
12 Brienen, Visions, 87.
13 Figure 1.
14 Ibid., 78.
15 Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Abraham Ortelius",
16 Brienen, Visions, 80.
17 Brienen, "Albert Eckhout's African Woman and Child (1641)" in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World, by
Agnes I. Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 229-55.
18 Peter Mason, Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 44-

19 Ibid., 44-45.
20 Ibid., 49.
21 Ibid., 57
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid., 49.
24 Figure 2.
25 Brienen, Visions, 120-128.
26 Harold E.L. Prins, "The Atlatl as Combat Weapon in 17th-Century Amazonia: Tapuya Indian Warriors in
Dutch Colonial Brazil," Newsletter of the World Atlatl Association, Inc 23 (May 24, 2010): 2-10, accessed March
24, 2016,
27 Quentin Buvelot, Dante M. Teixeira, Elly De Vries, Florike Egmond, and Peter Mason, Albert Eckhout: A
Dutch Artist in Brazil, (The Hague: Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, 2004).
28 Figure 3.
29 Ibid.
30 Brienen, Visions, 120.
31 Figure 4.
32 Whitehead, “Pictorial Record of a 17th Century Tupinamba Bow and Arrows,” Zeitschrift Für Ethnologie 110
(1985): 111-125.
33 Buvelot, Albert Eckhout, 75.
34 Figure 5.
35 Ibid., 72-74.
36 Brienen, Visions, 113.
37 I will continue to use the term Brasilianen instead of Tupinamba throughout the rest of this paper.
38 Brienen, Visions, 99-119.
39 Ibid., 131.
40 Figure 6.
41 Ibid., 133-144.
42 Figure 7.
43 Ibid., 145-154.
44 Ibid., 134.
45 Ibid., 141.
46 Mason, Infelicities, 61.
47 Ibid.
48 Ibid., 131-154.
49 Ibid., 182.
50 Mason, Infelicities, 45.
51 Brienen, Visions, 149.
52 Figure 8.
53 Figure 9.
54 Whitehead, A Portrait, 73.
55 Brienen, Albert Eckhout: Visões Do Paraíso Selvagem: Obra Completa (Rio De Janeiro, RJ: Capivara, 2010),
56 Ibid.
57 Brienen, Visions, 162.
58 Ibid., 167.
59 Tania Costa Tribe, "The Mulatto as Artist and Image in Colonial Brazil," Oxford Art Journal 19, no. 1 (1996):
68, accessed April 22, 2016,
60 Brienen, Albert Eckhout: Visões Do Paraíso Selvagem, 414-415.
61 Ibid.
62 Whitehead, A Portrait, 71.
63 Mariana Françozo, "Global Connections: Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen's Collection of Curiosities," in The
Legacy of Dutch Brazil, ed. Michiel Van Groesen (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 105-120.

64 Brienen, Visions, 205-207.